Fatherhood and Work

Posted June 14, 2019

With Father’s Day coming up, I have been reflecting on my journey as a relatively new father. Becoming a parent represents a seismic shift. Whatever priorities you had before, the tiny new human you are tasked with guiding through life is now your central focus. When my son was born two years ago, my wife and I were living in New York City. At the time, I remember spending all night bouncing my son to sleep only to wake up two hours later to commute to work. Not quite ever fully awake, I would find myself bouncing a phantom infant on the subway platform (most commuters probably just thought I was unglued). The truth is: I was. We were a young couple with a child we could barely afford in one of the most expensive cities in the country. To us, that didn’t matter because the center of our lives and relationship had shifted. But it wasn’t easy, balancing responsibilities as a parent never is. 

We all have aspects of our lives that require balance, but our families, jobs, and values don’t form a pie chart with one piece neatly taking up its own larger or smaller space. Instead, our core priorities are a tower of stones overlapping and supporting each other. At work, I don’t stop being a parent, and at home, I incorporate the values I find through my colleagues and work into my family life. The key to balancing everything involves not just how we divvy up our day-to-day tasks, but how we order these tasks in terms of importance. Something I hear quite often from other parents at ILLUME is “family comes first.” I think this expression represents the proper ordering of our biggest priorities. For parents, and for all of us, the people we hold close must come first. 

In some workplaces, unfortunately, the relationship between family and work is antagonistic. It is a balancing act, a tightrope walk performed every day to create the impression that being a parent doesn’t ever intrude on work. In this situation, responsibilities to the ones we love are seen as performance failures at work, or worse, cause us to fail to be there for the people we care about. One coworker gave me some words of wisdom about consulting, “set boundaries, sometimes you have to work at night or weekends, but if you do it too much you will burn out.” He shared that, in other companies, employees end up leaving consulting altogether, not because they lacked the skills, but because they couldn’t or weren’t willing to keep up the balancing act.

I think about the sacrifices my family has made, particularly my wife, for the greater good of the family. When my son was born, we were fortunate compared to many parents in the U.S. My wife had a job with part-time disability leave (I’m still not sure how having a child is a disability, but I’ll move on), so she was able to stay home with our son and receive 60% of her pay for 12 weeks. I had one week of unpaid leave and then had to go to work. The hardest thing about that time was that my wife was still recovering from birth. I couldn’t give her the physical support she needed during the day when I was at work. The most I could do was take over and help her rest and try to sleep at night. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. We could, as a society, put systems in place—as they have in many other countries—that support families. Without better national leave policies, businesses can still do something that both serves the common good and builds a better culture. This year, ILLUME announced a new policy: 12-weeks of full pay parental leave, applying to both births and adoptions, that I could take advantage of. It makes me proud to work here, but also represents a different sort of model—family-centric work. My work doesn’t try to compete with my family for my attention, and instead is something which recognizes the proper ordering of my life priorities.

ILLUME’s values-based approach to building a working community recognizes the overlap between work and family life and fully embraces it.

All of us can take the time we need to tend to our lives, whether it involves some form of leave, PTO, or flex time. It isn’t an easy thing to accomplish and it requires all employees to invest in planning, organization, and, above all, communication. ILLUME’s work culture emphasizes communication. It can take some getting used to for new employees, but we are all better for it. Rising to this challenge makes us more collaborative and helps us move fluidly together from one task to the next. 

Anne and Sara, ILLUME Founders, are building a supportive community and, while that is difficult to pull off, everyone benefits from it. Non-childbearing parents not only have the chance to bond with their children, we can support our partners. Companies benefit from these policies by attracting talent and avoiding the kinds of emotional and psychological stress imposed on employees who are separated from their loved ones when they are needed most. Finally, all employees benefit from the mutual support and increased communication that this approach yields. It takes a lot of dedication from everyone at all levels of an organization to build a community based on shared mutually beneficial values. What I have found in my time at ILLUME is true dedication to this company’s vision above anywhere else I have worked. Speaking for myself, I am very grateful to work for a company that wants me to take time to be a good father, and I pour that gratitude into my work. Most days when I leave for work, I look over my shoulder and see my son standing in the window of our living room watching me go. He does it with no tears or frustration, because he takes my presence in his life for granted, and I am grateful for that above anything else.